I recently turned 40.

That statement simultaneously excites and terrifies me. I love it because it’s kind of awesome getting older. I find I’ve stopped caring about all sorts of things that don’t matter – like what people think of me, the need to impress, the need to wear makeup, and much of the second guessing of my ideas. On the other hand, turning 40 is scary. Based on statistics, it means I’ve reached the middle of my life. A full half of my life is already over. And this fact has me thinking.

Though before I get into all that, here’s something on the lighter side. Every year, for the last few years, I’ve taken a self-portrait right around my birthday. At first, I have no idea why I did it. I think it was actually because I wanted to update my Facebook profile picture. But then it became this cool thing to do. What if I took a picture of my face every year? What would the progression of growing older look like? Wouldn’t that be cool to see?! I think so. Thus, I’ve continued the habit and made it a tradition. At first, I edited those pictures (got rid of blemishes, softened wrinkles, erased dark circles). Now, however, I don’t do that. Yes, I correct for color and exposure (I love a properly exposed photo). But that’s it. My wrinkles and dark circles and blemishes stay. Because I want to see what I really look like over the years. The portrait above is my official “40” photo. And below are a few more that I love from that session (because, let’s be honest, Charlotte is basically an extension of me).

So I actually turned 40 two months ago. My birthday is at the end of March. And I’ve pretty much been in deep thought since. When you realize half of your life has passed you by (whether that be good or bad), it makes you think. And what I’ve been thinking has been about the pull between two opposing parts of my personality. On one hand, I want to be practical — have a good job, keep my sweet little house, plan for retirement. On the other hand, I want to forget everything that’s practical and do the things that pull at my heart strings — leave Vegas, work as little as possible, travel, be more active, explore the outdoors.

Now, I’m not crazy. I don’t think all of those things have to be at odds with each other. I know I can both explore the outdoors and keep my house. But in reality, there are a few things where I will have to choose one or the other. And in choosing those things, I’m choosing very different paths. To be honest, I’m stumped.

So I’ve decided I’m just going full steam ahead into a mid-life crisis. Because, damn, I totally get it now. 

A mid-life crisis isn’t really a crisis. It isn’t a breakdown of any kind. It’s just a lot of serious thinking about what you’ve done with your life. Would you make the same decisions again knowing what you know now? And a lot of serious thinking about future plans. Given what you know now, what’s next? Because our lives are finite. None of this lasts forever. Maybe, just maybe, we should make the most of it.

Now, I thought I had a plan. I thought I’d finally figured it out, ready to let it all go. After most of the year spent searching for work and thinking about moving and carrying some pretty big decisions on my mind, I decided I would be practical. I would stay in Vegas, keep my house, teach here, work toward an early retirement, and travel during summers. But, if I’m being honest, something has continued to nag at me. And that nagging is this: I really, really don’t love living in Vegas.

Las Vegas is a great city if you’re a rock climber, love the desert, hate the rain, love good food, enjoy driving, and don’t mind its otherwise complete lack of outdoor activities. Now, that last piece might seem like a strange thing to say, if you know Vegas. Las Vegas is situated as a great spot for heading to the outdoors. It’s a short drive to Red Rock Canyon, an hour from Mt. Charleston, an hour from Lake Mead, and has several hiking trails on the outskirts of the city. However, and this is a big however, much of the community has no sidewalks, which makes it hard to go for a walk from my own house. There are no shade trees, a near complete lack of grass, a near complete lack of anything green. Those trails on the outskirts of town are most always littered with broken bottles, remnants of adolescent parties in the desert. Red Rock Canyon is getting so busy, I literally can’t get in on the weekend unless I plan to arrive by 6am. It’s annoying to have to drive over an hour to go for a short hike at Mt. Charleston. During the summer, when I have most of my time off, it’s too hot to hike — regardless of the location I choose. It’s also too hot to walk or do anything that doesn’t involve air conditioning. If I do, I could literally die. Heat stroke is real. During the winter, although not covered in snow, it is in fact, cold. And I hate being outdoors in the cold. My nose runs, my eyes run, my face gets dry and blotchy. It’s all around unpleasant. Now, the winters are mild enough. I would just suck it up if it weren’t for those hellish summers. Last, but certainly not least, this is not a dog friendly town. There are no good dog parks for running a normal sized dog. There are no off-leash trails. Sure, there are some dog-friendly patios at restaurants, and I appreciate that, but honestly, I don’t go to restaurants often. I want dog friendly places to let my dog run, and there simply aren’t any.

In writing all this, the choice seems obvious — get the hell out of Vegas.

And yet, the practical side of me nags. My pay in Vegas is higher than it would be in most other cities. There are no state income taxes. The retirement plan at the school district is perhaps the best in the country. My cost of living is low, even compared to Vegas standards. I own a lovely little home with upgrades that I worked really hard to make my own. Living here, I can afford to take extravagant vacations every year. Unbearable summer heat? Nah. I can up and leave during summer break.

The voice that wonders, however, suggests that perhaps a simpler life is better. That trading in a little extra cash for everyday peace of mind is worthwhile. That extravagant vacations aren’t needed as often when I truly love where I live. That walking trails and shade trees really are that important.

All of this to say, I don’t have all of the answers at this point. And, right now, that really just has to be okay.

In moving into this next half of my life, I think it’s important I be more open. What can I create that I truly love? Guided by that sentiment, I feel the need to be both practical and whimsical. Yes, retirement and financial security are important. But perhaps there are ways to feel financially secure and abundant while satisfying my other needs.